Ending Lead Poisoning

Fighting Lead Poisoning, Before the Flint Crisis and After

One of 50 stories, from 50 years of action

By Elizabeth Harlow

“Right now we are still using children as lead detectors in homes,” wrote Ecology Center Deputy Director Rebecca Meuninck in 2016, after the Flint Water Crisis renewed national scrutiny on children’s lead poisoning as a major issue of environmental injustice and a critical public health problem. 

The Flint Water Crisis made the moral imperative of preventing lead poisoning highly visible, along with the deep human costs of negligence and inaction. The crisis should never have happened, and public outcry demanded better protection and support from our national, state, and local governments.

Lead poisoning is entirely preventable. For over a decade, we have fought to get lead out of our homes and schools, out of consumer products ranging from children's toys to automobiles, and out of kids’ developing bodies. With your support, we’ve made substantial progress in this fight, especially by pressing lawmakers in Lansing to allocate more funding to prevent childhood lead exposure. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is no safe level of lead exposure for children. Lead causes irreversible damage to children’s brains and bodies, and--as we have documented--also has a huge negative economic impact in Michigan. 

Ending childhood lead poisoning is a matter of racial and economic justice. Children in low-income families and many communities of color are disproportionately exposed to lead in dust, soil, and water. This is due to a long history of divestment in poor communities and communities of color leading to an old and crumbing housing stock. Children living in rental housing are at the greatest risk of lead exposure, a problem exacerbated by fear of retaliation from landlords if families report potential lead hazards.

This is unacceptable. Children should be able to stay safe and healthy no matter where they live.  We are focused on preventing lead exposure before children become poisoned. With your support, we have won some major victories to protect children from lead poisoning over the years. 

Today, we’re are scaling up our work to prevent lead exposure from school drinking water by leading the Filter First coalition and advocating for the passage of bills that would require filtered drinking water stations be installed in every school and licensed daycare in Michigan. 

We are also thrilled that a long-awaited bill package was just introduced on January 23, 2020, to require universal lead screening for all Michigan kids, shift the burden of proof to landlords to disclose and fix lead risk before renting to families, require a lead test at sale or transfer of property, lower lead action levels, and ban lead and other toxic chemicals from cosmetics. 

With our supporters by our side, we will continue to leverage public outcry, strong economic analysis, and the powerful voices of impacted families and the health professionals who care for them to end lead poisoning in Michigan.